Remembering Ralph Emery, Country Music’s Preeminent Broadcaster (RIP)
It was the stars of Nashville and beyond that performed the music that made country music famous. But it was Ralph Emery who served it up all to the public in a way that made made it so easy for everyone to invite it into their homes, and into their hearts. He was country music’s preeminent emcee and its endearing uncle. Ralph Emery’s presence spans decades, formats, and generations. He was like family. And the loss that country music feels at the passing of this titan of broadcasting is no different than the passing of a cherished family member.
Whether you saw that smile on television, or heard it in his voice that was built for broadcasting, his enthusiasm for the subject matter of country music was rendered infectious. It didn’t emanate from New York or Los Angeles like so much of America’s national media. It came straight from Nashville, in the form of WSM radio broadcasts, the television show Pop! Goes The Country from 1974 to 1980, later Nashville Now from 1983 to 1993, and many other programs throughout the years. No matter where you were, Ralph Emery put country music front and center, while truck drivers coast to coast will remember Ralph Emery as the late-night disc jockey keeping them awake and entertained during those long hauls.
It was the rapport he kept with many entertainers that allowed Ralph Emery to get something special from interviews. They didn’t see Emery as a member of the media on a second tier from themselves. They saw him as an equal, while many up-and-comers were just as star struck to meet him as they would be some of their country music heroes. It wasn’t uncommon for artists just to “stop by” one of his shows unannounced, and time and room would be made. Wherever Ralph Emery was, that was country music’s living room, and everyone was welcome.
And it wasn’t just the big stars that Ralph’s platform was reserved for. On the contrary, Emery was one of the few in country music’s notoriously “hard to break through” system that would give up-and-comers their first big break. When then rest of Nashville considered Randy Travis “too country,” Ralph Emery gave him a platform on Nashville Now, and Randy’s first brush with fame. In January of 1984 while Randy was still employed as a dishwasher at the Nashville Palace, Ralph put him on his TV show, unsigned, and without a single. Randy Travis was shaking he was so nervous, but Emery told him, “Randy, don’t be nervous, you’re among friends.”
The second time Randy Travis appeared on Nashville Now on July 16th, 1984, he was still working full-time at the Nashville Palace, so he brought Emery dinner from the venue’s kitchen. Randy thought since he wasn’t famous yet, he would be expected to play something from George Jones or Merle Haggard. But Ralph Emery insisted to Randy, “Do your own songs.” Lorrie Morgan also found her first brush of fame thanks to Ralph Emery, as did many others.
Ralph Emery wasn’t just influential in country music. He was also a titan of American broadcasting in general. Dubbed the “Dick Clark of Country Music” by many, or “The Johnny Carson of Cable” by others, his programs not only inspired aspiring country artists watching and listening at home, he also inspired others to want to be their own version of Ralph Emery, hobnobbing with the stars, and bringing their stories and music them to the world. NASCAR driver and announcer Darrell Waltrip unabashedly claims that he stole his broadcasting approach from Ralph Emery. This is one of many reasons Emery was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2010.
Ralph Emery is also a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame where he was inducted in 2007. One of the hardest Halls of Fame to get into for anyone, to get in as a broadcast and media personality speaks to the influence and impact Emery had on the music, and from young to old. Emery didn’t play a partisan role in country music, making sure both young talent, and aging legends were well-represented in the country music diet. He even brought many kids along with his sometimes sidekick “Shotgun Red,” a puppet played by comedian and musician Steve Hall. The candor these two kept could make you forget sometimes that Ralph was communicating with a fictional character.
There were so many other productions Ralph Emery was involved in over the years. There was the Opry Almanac, which was a weekday morning show on WSM television (now WSMV). There was a late afternoon program called Sixteenth Avenue South also on WSM-TV, named after the Music Row street. Emery tried to return to television in 2001 on the FOX station WZTV with a program called Mornings with Ralph Emery, but only a few days after it started, it got preempted by the 9/11 attacks, and never really returned. Emery then made the move to RFD-TV where he hosted Ralph Emery Live from 2007-2015.
Born on March 10, 1933 in McEwen, Tennessee, Ralph Emery began his career as a DJ at small-market radio stations around Tennessee. He passed away on Saturday, January 15th at the age of 88. He is survived by his wife, Joy Emery, his three sons, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
January 15, 2022 @ 6:42 pm
As a kid, I’d watch him every weeknight night on Nashville Now on TNN (and Crook & Chase). I don’t recall hearing him specifically on the AM dial, but I’ve always loved and really miss the all-night truck driver country radio format.
Rest In Peace, Mr. Emory. You’ll be forever eulogized by The Byrds:
King Honky Of Crackershire (Let’s find out.)
January 15, 2022 @ 6:43 pm
This is sad. Thank goodness we have Bobby Bones to carry the torch. Long live C(c)ountry Music.
January 16, 2022 @ 7:19 am
Bobby Bones is NO and will NEVER be a Ralph Emery. Not even CLOSE
King Honky Of Crackershire (Let’s find out.)
January 16, 2022 @ 10:00 am
Good Morning Sir,
I use a lot of sarcasm to express lament. I figured it was obvious, considering the website we’re on. Have a good Sunday.
January 16, 2022 @ 10:24 am
We got the sarcasm. Agreed. I think Bones is sincere, but his persona just doesnt fit. Square peg, round hole. From my estimation, now that Eddie Stubbs called it quits, Bill Cody is the guy. Hes got it. Gotta give a shout out about Jeff Hoag too. He runs a late evening WSM show that cant be beat.
And for grins, i’ll mention Natalie Stovall on Circle tv. She has the smarts, shes a musician, shes gorgeous, country as apple pie, and has the charm and personality to boot. She makes me smile.
Ralph Emery, wow, passing of a legend. He was THE guy. Nuff said, take your hat off and show respect everyone.
King Honky Of Crackershire
January 16, 2022 @ 10:49 am
Hey Kevin, I always appreciate your comments, and enthusiasm.
You may not have completely gotten the sarcasm. “Long live C(c)ountry Music.” means C(c)ountry Music is dead. Each death of a legend represents further decay of its corpse.
Bones is a hipster clown, who shouldn’t be put in front of a microphone. Bill Cody sold his soul to Corporate Nashville. Jeff Hoag is very knowledgeable, but he doesn’t have the “It” factor of Eddie Stubbs. I believe Eddie retired because he agrees with me. Why spend the last 20 years of your life trying to resuscitate a decomposing corpse?
January 16, 2022 @ 11:16 pm
Bobby Bones?!! You have got to be kidding me!!! No way. Ralph was talented, loved country music inside and out and was real. Everything that Bones is not. Absolutely, NO comparison.
Jimmy and the Skinny Yunguns Band, featuring the Social Distance Dancers and Singers
January 17, 2022 @ 12:21 pm
Anyone know if Nashville Now from 1983 to 1993 airs on any station, or if it will be in the near future?
January 15, 2022 @ 7:29 pm
Back when I was living in LA, I was at Ameoba Records one day and they had this huge box of LPs of his 1970’s syndicated radio show – one artist a week he’d shoot the breed with inbetween playing their and recent hits, five LPs per week. Some of the artists he interviewed I recognized, some I didn’t, but I bought them all and it became sort of a master class in that era of country music- his quips, his anecdotes, the banter with him and every single artist he interviewed, it was amazing. I still hear a song today and then hear his voice along with it in my mind – what a career, what a life.
Douglas L Stapleton
January 16, 2022 @ 5:21 am
When I was a child Ralph Emery was one of my heroes many years later as a young man I got to work at opryland for a few years and Ralph Emery was still my hero I never atended one show of Nashville now and did not see him always treat everyone so nice so gracious I still have the book he signed for me.. Ralph thanks for the memories…🎼🎶🎵
January 15, 2022 @ 7:33 pm
greatest emcee of all time, any genre.
January 15, 2022 @ 7:40 pm
Don’t know if you’ve heard but country music lost legendary producer Jerry Crutchfield a few days ago as well.
What a rough week for the genre: Dallas Frazier, Jerry Crutchfield, and Ralph Emery.
January 15, 2022 @ 8:28 pm
And we also learned of Robert Earl Keen’s retirement from touring. A rough 48 hours. Heard about Jerry Crutchfield when I was composing this.
January 15, 2022 @ 7:59 pm
Sad to see. Remember him back on tnn.
January 15, 2022 @ 9:06 pm
What a huge loss to country music. The stories and knowledge he had was amazing. He seemed to make everyone he interviewed seem so relaxed even the ones who hated doing interviews. They just don’t have Djs like that anymore. Some of his old radio programs are floating around YouTube and they are well worth listening to. RIP.
January 15, 2022 @ 11:04 pm
Wasn’t he also married to Skeeter Davis? (And was there some controversy around that?)
January 16, 2022 @ 10:04 am
Lucky, you are correct. Easy to find on the net. Seems like she had a hard time with him.
January 16, 2022 @ 12:19 am
I thought he was disrespectful to Townes Van Zandt in their interview.
January 16, 2022 @ 8:21 am
Of course you would.
strait county 81
January 16, 2022 @ 8:26 am
Well maybe he’s apologizing to him right now and it can give you closure.
Rev. Johnny Ray Hice Sr
January 16, 2022 @ 1:17 am
I enjoyed him for years my prayers go up to all of his family at this time of need I ask of in Gods Omighty name Amen Rev Johnny Ray Hice Sr
January 16, 2022 @ 4:13 am
A really sad loss to his family and country music. My condolences to his family and friends. A true legend. RIP
January 16, 2022 @ 6:48 am
As a child in the late 60s and early 70s, my mom would often have WSM playing at night. Ralph Emery was the voice of country music. My mom and Mr. Emery helped me develop a love for it.
January 16, 2022 @ 7:30 am
Ralph Emery was a professional in every way possible. He knew how to tell stories about & with artists of all ages, backgrounds, lifestyles, genres to enrich each musical experience. He cunningly taught all of us country music appreciation through his vast knowledge, personal, & professional relationships. He was old school, & due largely to him, many of us love & comprehend old school. My sincerest sympathies, condolences, & gratefulness is extended to his family & friends.
January 16, 2022 @ 7:56 am
Yesterday I just happened to watch Ralph interview Waylon back in the 80s. I find myself returning to his old show a lot for entertainment. Big part of the soundtrack to my youth is Ralph Emery and his interviews. The world was a better place with him in it.
January 16, 2022 @ 8:24 am
Loved listening to Ralph. I did for years and years. He kept country music country.
January 16, 2022 @ 8:32 am
Sir Adam the Great
January 16, 2022 @ 9:57 am
He always reminds me of watching the early days of TNN with my grandparents. Crook and Chase, the Statler Brothers Show, and of course, Shotgun Red. I never did understand watching people dance at the Wildhorse Saloon, though.
God bless Ralph Emery.
January 16, 2022 @ 10:28 am
Loved watching him with Shotgun Red…
RIP Mr. Emery. 🇺🇸🎵🎶🎵🇺🇸
January 16, 2022 @ 10:52 am
While I have no problem with giving the man his due, I believe the shameful manner in which he _ and, to be fair, the rest of the country music establishment _ treated Gram Parsons and the Byrds when they came to Nashville to appear on the Opry and promote “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” merits mentiom. Emery was openly hostile to the band when they appeared on his program on WSM, initially refused to play an acetate of “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” and, after relenting, dismissed it as “mediiocre” in the group’s presence. The experience was the inspiration for the song “Drug Store Truck Driving Man.”
King Honky Of Crackershire
January 16, 2022 @ 11:09 am
I couldn’t disagree with you more. I’m thankful Ralph did what he did. It’s unfortunate there aren’t any gatekeepers anymore.
January 16, 2022 @ 2:05 pm
Honky Cracker, respectfully and with no desire for argument, are you saying that the music on “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” was not country and should not have been played on WSM?
King Honky Of Crackershire
January 16, 2022 @ 2:28 pm
That is correct. Although, shouldn’t the discussion revolve around the band, rather than the album?
January 16, 2022 @ 3:21 pm
Very interesting. I can certainly see how someone could object to The Byrds, in general, and the majority of their songs, being labeled country, but no question that “Sweetheart…” is country. The artist’s genuiness of intent or true genre, is not relevant to the type of art they actually create. If it’s country, it’s country, or if it’s Fauvism, it’s Fauvism, etc. But to paraphrase a wise fictitious character “Well you know, that’s just like uh, my opinion, man”.
King Honky Of Crackershire
January 16, 2022 @ 3:30 pm
I’ll agree with you that the album has C(c)ountry influences on it.
January 16, 2022 @ 11:21 am
I didn’t go into this because it probably deserves a deeper discussion that may not be appropriate for an obituary. But I will say that according to many, Ralph Emery learned from that moment, and that is why he was so receptive to up-and-coming artists in the coming years. You have to remember, that happened pretty early in his career, and Emery was far from the only one who gave The Byrds an icy reception. In later years when some were trying to run Waylon Jennings out of town for being too rock, or not country (can you believe that?), Ralph Emery defended him, and made sure he felt welcome.
January 16, 2022 @ 11:58 am
Ken, like many others, tend to look at the past through a modern day lens. I understand it is human nature, but one cannot understand the context of history using where we are today. That is why there are few historians, in any field, worthy of the pen. To interpret 1968 by 2022’s standards is asinine. No disrespect to Ken by the way.
It applies to historians in general, many of which are revisionists. Thank the modern-day educational system for producing brain-dead historical thinkers.
January 16, 2022 @ 12:05 pm
Trigger, Roger McGuinn appeared on Mr. Emery’s TV show in the ’80s and, when the subject of the Byrds’ WSM appearance came up, Mr. Emery doubled down on his assertion that the Byrds didn’t play country music.
January 16, 2022 @ 1:59 pm
Your comment illustrates the complexity of the situation. Yes, Ralph Emery did not consider them as country in the beginning, though I’m not sure he felt that way later. He was more than willing to invite Roger McGuinn onto his show (with Vern Gosdin) years later, and brought up the song Gram and Roger wrote about him.
You can see the whole exchange here:
It ends with Emery bringing up how Gram Parsons introduced Emmylou Harris to country music, giving Gram credit for that important moment in country, and using it to connect with Roger, Gram, and the Byrds.
“Well Roger, I’m sorry it worked out like that back in 1968. Are we still friends?” Emery asks. Roger answers “Yes,” and then the two shake hands.
That’s pretty damn cool if you ask me.
January 16, 2022 @ 2:37 pm
Yeah. No argument there.
January 19, 2022 @ 8:59 am
I suspect if Roger had been dressed and groomed as he was in this clip when he first appeared on the Opry stage and in the WSM studio, Ralph and the country audience in general might have been less hostile to him than they were. Which is to say that Ralph’s initial hostility surely had as much to do with the us-vs.-them political atmosphere in 1968 than it did with the music the Byrds were playing.
January 18, 2022 @ 10:06 am
Steel guitar alone does not country music make. They were playing folk rock.
January 18, 2022 @ 10:06 pm
Your mentioning of the album “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”. It wasn’t really a best seller at the time but what it did was pave the way for the likes of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band making their foray into country. And then came a wave of country-folk hybrids such as Linda Ronstadt in her pre-pop diva days, Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson and John Denver. Perhaps the album’s crowning achievement came when a pair of singing sisters took it as their stage name.
January 16, 2022 @ 11:23 am
Ralph was ‘King of Radio Airplay’ in Nashville back when commercial radio was openly corrupt.
Sorry to burst this bubble at this time but he hurt, and literally ended, potentially worthy careers with his powers and influence back then.
Heard him exclaim more than once when I was young and hanging around the scene…
“Make ’em and break ’em”.
January 16, 2022 @ 2:24 pm
Kevin, I would agree that you can certainly make the case that he abused his power and likely enjoyed being in such a position, but he still helped me develop a love for country music as a boy. And many others also, I’m sure.
January 16, 2022 @ 3:13 pm
Few people can personify any genre of music but Ralph WAS country music. He was the best whether on WSM radio or TNN. Didnt matter. His voice to me WAS country music and will forever be in my head. Rest in peace Ralph.
January 16, 2022 @ 3:43 pm
Legend has it one time when Roger McGuinn of Byrds fame was a guest on Nashville Now, Ralph asked him how Gram Parsons was. “Still dead, Ralph…still dead.” McGuinn reportedly replied.
Everett & Lutilda Osborn
January 16, 2022 @ 9:13 pm
We were wondering what happened to his program interviewing country singers. RIP RAlph.
January 18, 2022 @ 5:38 am
January 18, 2022 @ 10:04 am
I miss watching Ralph on Nashville Now. It reminds me of watching the show with my grandparents. My Papaw left the TV on TNN almost always, unless there was a NASCAR race on somewhere, and Nashville Now was one of the shows I willingly watched with him. Requiescat in pace, Ralph Emery.
January 18, 2022 @ 5:55 pm
I have to admit that I really don’t like the country music that was prominent in the years that Nashville Now was on. Even today I prefer Willie’s Roadhouse on XM over anything considered country today. But I did enjoy that show from time to time and it was probably because of Ralph. He did a great job of hosting and that show seemed pretty balanced with the old timers and the younger artists. I really think that Nashville Now should have been kept on TV much longer.
Michael Eaton jr.
September 9, 2022 @ 1:36 am
Ok so I am the grandson of Roadmap Bobby Eaton, who became somewhat of a celebrity on the morning show that Ralph hosted. Ralph was my Godfather and I basically lived with Ralph and his family as an infant, as well as with Sonny Lemaire and his first wife Patty, while my mother and father were on tour singing, Ralph gave my mother her first record deal and she performed on the morning show as well. I had seen Ralph off and on during my adolescent years, notably one instance at my grandfathers funeral, as Ralph bore Grandaddy’s casket. Later on in my 30’s I found myself at the CMA’s around 06’ and I was running around backstage and I heard Amy Grant say “ Ralph ! What are you doing back here?!” And I glanced over and there he was. So, I walked straight up to him, with guarded expectations and introduced myself… The man embraced me and walked me over to a place where we could talk and tried to catch up on as much as we could in 5 min. He did mention he had memories of me as an infant running around the stages on the morning show as well as the set of hee haw… I told him I had run into Roni Stoneman, a figure on hee haw who babysat me during set breaks while my grandmother Margaret Eaton styled Minnie Pearls hair… (yes I have had a charmed musical life that was not even realized until recently, just how lucky and blessed I have been to be the recipient of such a rich musical heritage) So…after the brief catch up, Ralph then informed me that I needed to introduce myself to Bill Lowery who was also present at the awards show… He said Bill was also a figure in my early years and would be very interested to meet me… so I did and again, I was met with such a warm and intimate reaction from Bill who gave me a brief rundown of his part in my family’s musical history. How lucky was I that magical night to have these two Giants in music and entertainment, kneel down and show me such kindness and selflessness. Both of them are gone now sadly but their legacies, and the indelible mark they made on the music industry, the hand these two men had in bringing to light and cultivating some of the greatest writers, musicians, personalities of this century, will live on through their families, loved ones and the millions of lives they touched. I am a 3rd generation Opry and Ryman performer, as my grandfather, and my aunt, Connie Eaton did before me and Ralph is a relevant piece of the legacy I must keep alive. Thanks.